Kyrgyzstan: Row Over Mufti Change

Allegations are flying after the country's Muslim administration chooses a new leader.

Kyrgyzstan: Row Over Mufti Change

Allegations are flying after the country's Muslim administration chooses a new leader.

A controversial change of Kyrgyzstan's principal mufti - spiritual leader - has split the country's Islamic clergy and shocked ordinary believers.

Kimsanbai Abdurakhmanov was replaced by his first deputy Murataaly Djumanov at special meeting of the Ulem council - the selection body of the Kyrgyz muftiyat - on August 10.

The official explanation for the switch was that Abdurakhmanov - who was not present - had exceeded his authority.

The meeting of the Ulem council of the muftiyat at the Bishkek Historical Museum found that two-thirds of the body's staff had been replaced under Abdurakhmanov's leadership.

According to regulations only one-third of staff can be changed without the approval of the Kurultai (congress) of representatives of all the Muslim organisations in the country.

However, an alternative meeting of Muslims, held at the same time in Grigorevka in the Issyk-Kul Oblast, declared the Bishkek gathering and its decisions to be illegitimate.

Both sides have accused their opponents of acting at the behest of state authorities. Abdurakhmanov's critics have also made serious allegations of corruption against the muftiyat.

In particular, it is alleged that desperate pilgrims were forced to give bribes to its officials in order to undertake the Haj to Mecca. Abdurakhmanov himself firmly dismisses such claims.

"These allegations of corruption or bribery have no relation to the real state of affairs, either in my case or that of the muftiyat leadership as a whole," he said.

The sacked cleric also rejected claims that he enjoyed a lavish lifestyle and owned a luxurious three-storey mansion, telling IWPR, "I am prepared to look at this three-storey mansion that I am supposed to have - if they can find it and show it to me.

"I also give you permission to come and see for yourself if it is a mansion, or just a house."

Djumanov and other members of the muftiyat, who approved his removal, claim that Abdurakhmanov lent an "excessively worldly character" to daily religious life and even politicised it, turning spiritual celebrations and ceremonies into political events.

The new mufti has even hinted that his predecessor enjoyed the support of the authorities, especially the State Committee for Religion, adding that this would be both a violation of the Ulem council regulations and of the Shariat (the Islamic code of laws).

Responding to the charges of corruption under Abdurakhmanov, parliamentary deputy Tursunbai Bakir uulu says he is amazed that the accusations are coming from members of the same administration.

"If the leadership of the Kyrgyzstan muftiyat accuses its former head, this means it should take full collective responsibility - and everyone should resign together. Especially because, as far as I know, many members of the Ulem council were appointed by Kimsanbai-adjy himself," he said.

Pointing to the enormous sums of money collected by the muftiyat each year, he claimed, "No other faith in the country gathers such a sum and the State Commission for Religion has pushed its own man into the leadership to gain control of this wealth."

However, state commission head Omurzak Mamayusupov denies that it interferes in the organisation's internal affairs - including its financial ones.

"This organisation (the muftiyat) is not obliged to report to anyone - including the government and parliament - on the sums it receives, where they come from or what they are spent on," he said.

"These (religious) organisations examine and decide their financial affairs themselves, after they have been registered according to the appropriate legal procedure. This is especially fair for Muslims - they are the largest religion in the country, and are more than capable of deciding their own affairs themselves."

Mamayusupov told IWPR that the allegations of interference in the financial affairs of the Islamic body were nothing new. People in prominent public positions have over the years have repeatedly been accused of trying to politicise religious life in the country - but there has never been any evidence that the commission has been behind it.

Tolkunbek Turdubaev is a BBC stringer in Bishkek

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